San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) a regulated public utility that provides energy service to 3.3 million consumers through 1.3 million electric meters and more than 800,000 natural gas meters, plans to install technologically advanced electric meters for its customers over the next four years. The new meters will ensure accurate automated meter readings, lead to quicker response to outages and provide customers with more information regarding their energy use, with the ultimate goal being to reduce the likelihood of electricity shortages and defer the need for future power plants.

This new project, outlined in a proposal filed with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) earlier this month, will see installation of the new meters begin later in 2005, with completion scheduled for 2009.

California utilities have tested an advanced metering system to reduce energy usage at peak times through a series of state-wide pilot programmes in 2003 and 2004, when more than 2,000 residential and commercial customers tested the equipment, working with electricity rates that changed at different times of the day. Participants used an average of 14% less electricity during peak periods, typically 2 pm to 7 pm, and were generally satisfied with the programme.

SDG&E has noted that most electricity rates will need to be adjusted to reflect the true costs of electricity used at various times of the day if the advanced metering system is to reduce peak electricity usage. Overall, though, the average rate will stay the same.

The utility expects to benefit from a reduction in number of meter re-readings; reduction in customer calls about metering issues; and reduction in costs to reprogram meters, which will be done remotely. Also, precise information on customer usage patterns will enable SDG&E to design its system for maximum effectiveness, as well as reduce customer calls to discuss meter readings. SDG&E expects to reduce the meter reader work force primarily through attrition during phase-in of the new meters.

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